Monday, April 29, 2013

Death knoll for boo-who and boo-whom?

Writers are tortured by grammatical challenges.  Subject-predicate agreement. Dangling participles.    Modal verbs. Collective nouns, and their derivational agreements. Sentence-ending prepositions.  Placement of commas, exclamation points (Inside or outside the closing quotation mark, and I'll let it go at that!)

Rules, Rules Rules.

The latest catalog from The Great Courses is offering a 36-lecture DVD course which (that?) apparently tries to answer its own question: "How did we get from one language to 6,000?" In Lecture 26, it tells us, "you examine the famous Sapir-Whorf hypotheses, which proposes that features of our grammars channel how we think."  I have long enjoyed the rewards of the Great Courses, but this is one I may postpone for awhile.

Hang on.  There is better news from the April issue of The Atlantic.  An essay by Megan Garber removes much of our guilt  about our confusion over who and whom  - a couple of words that have (has?) baffled me for a half-century.  Whom, she writes,  is headed for the graveyard . Good riddance!

Megan is a dedicated researcher who (of course!) has based her conclusion on the impending death of  whom  from a 400-million word Corpus of Historical  American English records.   Using Time magazine as the resource, she noted that the magazine used whom 3,352 times in the 1930s, 1,492 in the 1990s, and a mere 902 in the 2000s.  The way things are going, if she had waited another year or two she might have been able to report zero usage of the dying word  in Time -  or all of the other words that once appeared in a defunct magazine.

So if you have come this far in this exercise, I will take the opportunity to intrude upon the rules in a gender sensitive age that gave us Ms. when a woman's marital status was unknown.

Then we moved on to "he or she" in referring to a man or woman when both sides deserved equal rights to the thought.   But it was awkward  to make that point in such instances as, say, "There were times when he or she wondered whether it was a good investment."

I have a solution:  Replace he or she with (s)he, or s(he).

Time to evolve, folks, which seems to be what so many people are doing these days anyway.

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